The country that travels the world

It’s just a relatively-small island off the west coast of Europe, and yet all around the world people celebrate its national day, St Patrick’s Day.

Essence Of Ireland attempts to explain the phenomenon on its latest tour which takes in Southsea’s Kings Theatre on March 22.

“How come 17 American presidents claim Irish ancestry? We have even had presidents of France and Argentina,” says Ged Graham, principal male vocalist, creative director and narrator.

As he says, it all comes down to that Irish habit of going abroad (while always taking a bit of Ireland with you) – as the show sets out to make plain.

“We didn’t want to do just another Irish music show. We wanted to do something with a meaningful story, and so we did a re-write with the show a little while back, and we have now based it on real events or on the kinds of things that could have happened.

“We have created the story of two young people who fall in love, Sean and Cora, two young people in Ireland. But Sean comes to England to find work and gets work with a gang of McAlpine’s Fusiliers in London. After the war, Robert McAlpine and other big companies were doing the rebuilding of the country after all the bomb damage, and thousands of Irishmen came over to be part of it, and they called them McAlpine’s Fusiliers.

“So Sean joins a gang of McAlpine’s Fusiliers and is sending back money to Cora in Ireland.

“But then through his uncle, he gets the opportunity to go to New York. He travels out there with Cora’s blessing, and that’s where the story starts to kick off with the immigration story, with people saying goodbye to people they love and maybe never seeing them again, people heading out into the big wide world from Ireland.

“Sean builds a new life in America, and Cora lets him go. She doesn’t feel that it is right for her to leave Ireland, but she won’t stand in Sean’s way. He corresponds with Cora over 50 years, but really the correspondence isn’t to Cora. It is more his diary through his letters of his life in America. Cora becomes a metaphor for leaving Ireland.

“We were in Norwich last night, and there were more than a thousand people there. We were meeting the public after the show, and you wouldn’t believe the amount of people that came up to us and said ‘That’s my granddad’s story!’

“Various people were saying ‘My dad came to England, and my mum stayed at home.’ Everybody has got a different story, but they were all variations on a theme... and so we hope to convey this wonderful story of this little island off the west coast of Europe, and yet there are more than 18 million people around the world claiming Irish ancestry!”

Ged, who originally hails from Dublin, was himself part of that exodus when his family moved to Manchester when he was 11.

He arrived with a thick Dublin accent which he reckons he’d lost within days.

The older people might tend to ghetto-ise, but the youngsters are the ones that go out and assimilate to their new surroundings, as he says.

But make him sing an Irish song, as you’ll see and hear during the show, and that Irish accent comes back...

“When I go back to Dublin with my family, my accent just changes completely!”

Tickets for the show are available from the Kings on 02392 828 282.